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About Abnormal Psychology

Updated on January 23, 2019
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Rodric completed his bachelor of psychology through the University of Phoenix. His perspective provides guidance and education.


During the Greek and Roman eras, people with perceived mental problems received cautious treatment.

Hippocrates first put effort to bring the plight of the mentally ill to societal view in the fifth-century b. c. by first pronouncing it as a disease of the mind.

Unfortunately, as the era passed, so did the care of the mentally ill—leading into practices at distressing to the victims involved.

Abnormal psychology did not have quite the separate attention 50 years ago compared to what it has today. Before the 18th century, no institutions existed for the mentally impaired; and for many years, society condemned those with mental impairments as possessed of evil spirits.

Benjamin Rush

Signer of the United States Declaration of Independence
Signer of the United States Declaration of Independence

In America, Benjamin Rush, known for his involvement in the American Revolution and signing the Declaration of Independence, popularized the study of the treatment of mental disorders with bloodletting, or allowing the patients to bleed away a disorder.

As strange as Rush’s method appears, he based his view on his premise that mental disorders originated from the brain caused by swollen blood vessels within the brain, hence the bloodletting.

Abnormal psychology captured the attention of notable minds such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers who postulated reasons why humanity behaved in any particular manner and gave opinions as to causes that led to maladaptive behavior that gave way to the modern view of abnormal psychology.

Since the days of Sigmund Freud, vast resources have come into existence to enhance the psychologists understanding of how to diagnose and developprognosis for many varied disorders and mental illness listed in a work supported by the American Psychological Association call the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition or DSM-IV for short.


The DSM-IV resource lists over 200 disorders above 800 pages in length detailing observable symptoms of the listed disorders. Psychology in America uses the DSM-IV as a resource to help psychologist and psychiatrist to have a guide to assist in the prognosis for patients with mental disorders.

The DSM-IV has a five-axis basis: axis one deals with diagnosis; axis two deals with developmental and personality disorders; axis three deals with physical condition of patients and axis four deals with psychosocial stresses and axis five deals with recent and current functioning in society.

...Walks in a gentleman dressed handsomely, clean shaven and aesthetically pleasing physically. The gentleman’s first order of business when fully entering the room involves emptying a gun on the people resting there without any observable provocation.

After searching to see that all present received his rounds, he walks away with no apparent distress. What motivation pushed the gentleman in action to extinguish those lives—assassination, mass murdering or something else?

The different perspectives listed above may add value to the gentleman’s particular psychosis and help to provide the necessary treatment or the lack of treatment depending on the diagnosis. Altogether, the perspectives and information provide a basis for understanding mental disorders and a system, namely the DSM-IV, to guide the diagnosis and prognosis.

The DSM-IV is not an unchangeable guide that can describe all illnesses of the mind, but is a list of what exists already that can be updated to include or exclude.

Columbine Massacre
Columbine Massacre | Source

A random search on the internet may reveal results from thousands of sources about disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder or dissociative identity disorder.

Understanding what sources to trust and which to disregard may prove challenging for the average person seeking information about a particular disorder. Yet, people seek information from multiple sources to gain perspective and understanding about many illnesses to have an informed view of what may ultimately affect acquaintances or even themselves.

Seeking information about disorders may entail research and study to understand the causes and treatments that may not readily show in the works numbered on an internet search. following is a brief exploration of the biological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components of anxiety, mood and dissociative disorders.

The purpose of this exploration is to provide a BASIC understanding of the components of the disorders regarding the listed descriptions. Anxiety disorder, mood disorders and dissociative disorder all have common influence on humanity as do other mental disorders in varying degrees.


Anxiety disorders

What is anxiety?

In their text, Abnormal psychology, Hansell and Damour define Anxiety as “an unpleasant emotion characterized by a general sense of danger, dread, and physiological arousal.”1

The unpleasant emotions associated with having anxiety disorders begin with the autonomic nervous systems including its two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic; the limbic systems, which regulates memories; and the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin that carry the information to proper receptors in the body.

The functions of these systems together help to determine if a panic attack will occur. Suffers of this mental illness tend of have negligible levels of the gamma-aminobutyric acid or serotonin that proffers greater susceptibility for an anxiety attack.

The psychodynamic approach and emotional perspective, according to Freud, suggests that anxiety occurs because of repressed sexual urges. In recent understanding, the disorders associated with anxiety occur because of traumatic experiences from childhood—disorders such as phobias, post-traumatic disorder, and others.

Behavioral components of anxiety included classical conditioning, or learning based identifying with memory, operant conditioning, or learning associated with reinforcement; and modeling or learning associated with observation.

Cognitive Schemas associated with cognitive components of anxiety suggest that “maladaptive assumptions are negative expectations about the relationship between behaviors and outcomes,”2 such as making the potentially false assumption that unless an individual performs a certain task in a particular manner an unpleasant outcome will occur creating anxiety.

All agree that there is an incorrect pattern of focus causing the negative thinking and leading to the attack, which if addressed in all perspective cases by redirection of behavior and thought can diminish attacks along with medicine and counseling in the severe cases.


Mood or Affective Disorders

Moods range from mania (describing extremely high moods) to depressed (describing extremely low moods) that affects cognition, motivation and physical aspects of life associated with feelings.

Biological components of mood disorders include genetic, hormonal and neurochemical influences. Studies show that depression can follow generations of people based on disposition towards depression because of the genetic combinations from parents who also suffered from depression.

In addition, certain hormones produced to regulate the mood can occur for whatever reason in inadequate proportions causing mood disorders. Emotional components of mood disorders focus more on experiences from the past of loss that cause negative emotional responses that through association with new experiences establish an environment for similar emotional responses to recur. Some tragic loss in this instance brings on the depressed feelings.

This emotional component seems closely related to the interruption of the reinforcers perspective relative to the behavioral view espoused by Skinner--both involve a separation from something critical to perceived stability.

Cognitive components of mood disorders suggest that the negative schemas a mentally ill person with a mood disorder invents cause the perpetual state of depression unless some force or replacement schema aids to train the mind to different thoughts.

All agree that something has occurred to cause a problem, which can then be treated medicinally and with counselling.

Dissociative Disorders


Dissociative disorders “refers to a significant disruption in one’s state of consciousness, memory, sense of identity, or any combination of the three.”3 This disruption in the state of consciousness, popularly known as multiple personality disorder, present a unique set of components not so easily explained.

The body of research related to the biological component of dissociative disorders remains scant. Little has surfaced since the focus began in that realm in the last several years. The most that has occurred recently deals with research about the effects of hallucinogens on the brain and the association of the thalamus with dissociative functions.

The emotional component of dissociative disorders suggests that the defense mechanism has something to do with the extreme division of personality functions. The psychodynamic view suggests that multiple identities form as a way to protect the victim from severe emotional trauma.

Something so traumatic has occurred in the suffer's life that memory has disconnected with reality to protect the suffers perception of life, yet it causes an alternative split of personality to emerge as a testament that the dissociative catalyst remains.

Such trauma is also treatable through therapy and medicine where necessary.

An interesting fictional dramatization of one of the disorders occurs in the show The United States of Tara. It is a drama about a woman dealing with Dissociative identity disorder and trying to lead a normal life with her family.

Hansell and Damour write regarding the behavioral component of dissociative disorders that learning to dissociate is the psychological equivalent of learning to duck a punch; by dissociating, emotional pain is avoided and the behavior of dissociating is reinforced. When such a person subsequently remembers the traumatic event, or when another traumatic or highly upsetting circumstance occurs, dissociation may be repeated.

Because dissociating traumatic event provides a temporary relief for the sufferers, the behavior repeats when a situation of similar significance occurs so that the relief reinforces the psychotic behavior. In connection, the dissociative behavior may as in the cognitive component, only surface if some hypnosis occurs to associate the sections to make a connection to why a separation occurred in the first place.

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With so many different sources of information to gather knowledge about the different components of anxiety, mood, and dissociative disorders, it devolves upon the individual to ensure the information makes sense and derives from viable research.

The different listing on the internet may provide promises of treatment that may encourage the readers to use that product, but an understanding of the components of each disorder—an understanding of the derivative and the workable association with the several components of the disorder will assist in sifting through the chaff of internet information.


Goodwin, C.J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Hansell, J., & Damour, L. (2005). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

  • (2007, pg 111)1.
  • (Hansell & Damour, 2007, pg 135)2
  • (Hansell & Damour, 2007, pg 196)3

White, R. (1948). Historical introduction: Origins of abnormal

© 2013 Rodric Anthony Johnson


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